A project by Alfonso Borragan
No man’s Land originated at Avon Riverside in Bristol in amidst the tumult and shouts of a clay battle. A playful action where wild semi-adults gave themselves to a forgotten space without realizing the importance of their acts.
The river was once the center of community life. Particularly important was its use as a public space for bathing and washing clothes, when it formed a gathering place for the whole community. The use of the river as a public washing site changed with the creation of public baths in the 17th century and later with private bathrooms in the 19th century. This distanced the people and their daily activities from the river, a withdrawal that created a space later occupied by games, fun and transgression. The river developed into a space far from the eyes of authority and the rules of the town. It was invaded by children, adult children and bandits; by illicit games and clandestine practices. It became a non-site, out of the reach of regulation, free of social roles and ownership. A no man’s land, forgotten by the children and out of civilization’s reach. This withdrawal, however, did leave symbolic traces, of the life that had once happened there.
No man’s Land is a project that uses water and games as gateways to the the illicit. It reawakens a free and abandoned space that with old and new stories.
Sometimes I would approach and start talking one-on-one to a single person, other times I would start talking to groups of two or three, sometimes to couples. As you suggested, I started off by saying something like “Do you know about this artist? I heard he spent time near a river in Catalonia and heard stories from people. I heard one of the stories came from an 85 year old man…” and then I’d tell the story about carrying a stone to cross the river. Depending on the response, I would talk about the other stories related to the videos, but also bring in my personal stories. I repeated the phrase “I heard about…” frequently. Sometimes I’d talk about Callois’ theory of play and games. When I felt the conversation had run its course (or swum its course) I would say something like the following…
“And I heard the artist wanted to hire an actor who was over fifty years old to come here and tell his stories, but in such a way that people would just think he was someone talking to them and not realize he was a performer. And I heard the actor was a little shy about doing it but was going to do it anyway.”
At which point, they usually “got it” and laughed. One participant said “So you’re kind of like a living artist’s statement.”
Another person compared me to a “party sparkler”. I’d never heard that term…meaning someone who is given free drinks at a party in return for starting conversations and keeping the party going. Not sure I was that sparkly, but I had fun once I settled into the quiet story-telling.
One man approached me and said someone had told him I could reveal the mystery.
Here’s a few stories I heard from people I talked to during the course of the evening. (I’ll attach a list of my personal stories centred around rivers and games that I drew from in conversation.)
When I told about the Leech contest, one man told me about a contest in the American South. People wade into a swampy river without a shirt on and get covered in mosquitoes. The person who can stay the longest while getting bitten by the mosquitoes wins.
The Cliff jumping led to stories about crazy games/play one did while a teenager. “It’s like the show ‘Jackass’.” (Do you know the show? People doing dangerous, stupid stunts. Perhaps a degraded form of “vertigo” play.) He talked about climbing towers and scaffolding on construction sites of unfinished buildings.
I never played “Buoys” (although I had done breath-holding contests underwater) but one person said they had and felt it was a common game across cultures.
Another person found the dynamite fishing hard to believe. He kept saying “That sounds like a cartoon.” “No,” I kept assuring him, “I heard it really happened. And I’ve heard about people in Canada doing it too.”
One person thought the fish in one of your videos were fake. “No,” I assured him, “I heard they were real.”
It’s too bad you couldn’t have been there, Alfonso. You could’ve been incognito and just listened to people’s reactions to the work.
One of my favourite moments came near the end of the evening. I asked a woman if she knew the story behind the video of people carrying stones. She said yes she did and then started to tell me the story. Someone I’d talked to earlier had just told her the story I’d told him (and that you told me). So the oral transmission came full circle. I’d told one man the story I’d heard about, he told her and she told me. Perfect!
Alfonso Borragan is a multidisciplinary artist, born in Santander (Spain) who lives and works in London. He received a BA from St. Jordi University, Barcelona and an MFA from Slade School of Fine Arts, London.He has chosen the world of art as the channel which best allows him to express and develop his ideas.He is only interested in art which provides a vehicle for experience. He creates structures to be consumed, that are experiences in themselves, that seek to change in some way the perception of reality. He devises situations and artifacts that broaden perception experientially. His art exists on a symbiotic level, intrinsically connected , an organic work that only comes to life through him and disappears with him. His creations are consumed by the experience of them but are expanded through oral transmission, the source of human growth, the communication of stories and memory. He experiments with the matrices of freedom that spark the magic, with the illusionism of the hidden, with play and alchemy, as he constantly reseeks the place where events take place: in the rituals of eating, in the paganism of the feast, the calm of the mountains, the movement of a river, among the tree-tops.